Samantha Kelley: Scholarships Help First-Gen Student Stay in School, Work Toward Degree

By Becky Kramer

During her junior year at WSU, Samantha Kelley’s dream of becoming a certified public accountant appeared to be slipping away.

Without family resources to help pay for college, Kelley was shouldering the bills for tuition and living expenses herself. But the first-generation college student hit a point where she couldn’t see a senior year—or graduation—in her future.

“I was really stressed out, scared that I wouldn’t be able to finish my education,” she says.

Kelley, 21, had set her sights on becoming a CPA during her first accounting class. While other students struggled with balance sheets, accounting felt intuitive to her. Landing a job at one of the Big Four accounting firms became her career goal.

The long hours associated with public accounting didn’t faze the former competitive cheerleader. During high school, she started a small business selling cheer accessories, which she built up and later sold. She also worked 70-hour weeks at two summer jobs to save money for college.

“Once you pass your CPA exam, people throw jobs at you,” one of her professors had told her. But without a degree, Kelley knew she wouldn’t get job offers or the chance to take the CPA exam.

Kelley was “fighting to finish her education,” says Marla Meyer, the Carson College’s Moss Adams accounting career advisor, who was impressed by Kelley’s gumption. Meyer urged Kelley to apply for scholarships and helped her with applications.

Scholarships will cover tuition

Thanks to generous scholarships, Kelley’s senior year tuition is paid for. She received $5,000 each from the Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants and the Jacob W. Oswald Scholarship. Other awards came from Deloitte, the Cougs Helping Cougs Scholarship, and a WSU scholarship for first-generation students.

The Carson College awarded its students more than 360 scholarships valued at over $620,000 during the 2018–2019 academic year.

“Scholarships are the difference-maker for many of our students,” says Jeff Pilcher, the college’s director of philanthropic engagement. “Scholarships allow them to attend WSU, pursue their dreams, and after graduation, have a career in an area they’re passionate about.”

After Kelley graduates in spring 2020, she’ll intern at Deloitte’s Seattle office. She envisions completing a one-year master’s degree in accounting before taking the CPA exam in 2021.

Degree will be “life-changing”

Deloitte has a highly competitive internship program, so it’s an achievement for Kelley to win a spot there, says Meyer. Kelley gets good grades while working part-time during the school year and volunteering.

“She’s a hard, hard worker, and this degree will be life-changing for her,” Meyer says.

Finishing her college education will put Kelley on the path for a secure future in the highly paid field of accounting.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities in the Carson College, including the financial assistance that will make my senior year possible,” she says. “The accounting program has been such a blessing to me.”

To learn more about how you can invest in the Carson College of Business student experience,
contact Jeff Pilcher, development director, at or 509-335-8906.